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3 October 2005
BERLIN - Ending two weeks of post-election deadlock, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Monday signalled a willingness to step down to make way for "a stable government", a move widely seen as paving the way for a woman to become chancellor for the first time in German history.
After a key post-election vote in Dresden bolstering his conservative challenger Angela Merkel on Sunday, Schroeder said in a television interview that he would not "stand in the way" of a resolution of the stalemate created by the indecisive September 18 general election.
"This is not about my claims nor about me personally," he said in backing off from his election night claim that he would remain chancellor, come what might.
"It is about the claim of leadership of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD)," the chancellor told RTL Television.
"And that is a matter to be decided by the party leadership," he added.
"I shall accept any decision," he concluded, saying he did not want to stand in the way of a stable government.
While Schroeder hinted that he still believed his Social Democrats should lead a grand coalition, political analysts were quick to point out that no one in his party has the charisma or influence to step into Schroeder's shoes.
Schroeder's remarks, coinciding with festivities marking the 15th anniversary of German unification, came amid mounting public pressure for a resolution of the deadlock and with opinion surveys showing only 18 per cent of Germans agreed with him that he should stay on as chancellor.
On election night, he had vowed to stay on as chancellor, bolstered by voter returns showing the SPD at 34 per cent, just one point behind the CDU/CSU at 35 per cent.
Since then he has proposed a variety of scenarios, including sharing the chancellorship with Merkel on a rotating basis. He has also suggested that he would withdraw his claim to the chancellorship if Merkel likewise did so.
His final change of heart came after Merkel's Christian Democrats expanded their lead over Schroeder by an additional seat in balloting on Sunday in precincts of Dresden where the September 18 voting had been postponed owing to the death of a ballot candidate.
Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) won 37 per cent of the vote in Dresden while Schroeder's SPD got almost 33 per cent.
The Dresden results mean Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic alliance (CDU/CSU) now has 226 seats in the German parliament's lower house, the Bundestag, compared with 222 seats for Schroeder's Social Democrats, (SPD) which were won by his party when the regular election was held on September 18.
Voting for about 219,000 people in half of Dresden had to be postponed because one of the candidates on the ballot, a far-right member of the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD), died before election day. The NPD was soundly defeated and won just over 2 per cent on Sunday.
Merkel and Schroeder have been forced into holding talks on forming a grand coalition between their two parties, the long-time main rivals of German politics.
Analysts were predicting the negotiations could drag on well into November. Leading economists warned that such a protracted stalemate could stifle any rekindling of German economic recovery.
Schroeder's remarks on Monday now dramatically speed up that process. SPD officials immediately huddled Monday evening to discuss his statement and to plan a strategy for this week's talks with the CDU/CSU.
Schroeder's outgoing SPD alliance with the Greens failed to win a majority, but Merkel's designated CDU/CSU marriage with the pro- business Free Democrats also fell short.
Talks between the SPD and the CDU/CSU on a possible grand coalition will resume Wednesday in Berlin.
Schroeder's remarks capped a day of speeches, fireworks, street fairs marking the 15th anniversary of German unification.
German President Horst Koehler, in a Unity Day speech, noted that the divisions between East and West Germany have been more stubborn to heal than originally had been predicted in the heady days when the Berlin Wall came down.
"We are coming to the realisation that some parts of our nation will always be more disadvantaged than other regions," he said. "We are coming to the realisation that not every region can be a model of prosperity and happiness, even while we strive to achieve prosperity and happiness for all."
Potsdam was the focus of this year's official celebrations, which have been held in a different city each year since the two Germanys were united at the stroke of midnight on October 3, 1990.
A huge street fair and a spectacular fireworks display highlighted the Potsdam festivities, which drew hundreds of thousands.
Stirring speeches and classical music concerts were the order of the day for dignitaries, meanwhile, as former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl received the prestigious Quadriga Award for achievement from former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
Other recipients included Afghanistan's leader Hamid Karzai, Prince Karim Aga Khan and Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web.
Subject: German news
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